99 days of freedom?

99 Days of Freedom was setup as an online study on how life without Facebook impacts user happiness. It was established by a Dutch creative agency called ‘Just’, in an effort to determine whether or not excessive use of Facebook really benefitted someones sense of well-being or actually had a detrimental impact.

It’s election week in the UK and so now seems as good a time as any to give this a go.

So here goes …

 

The Pringles Paradox

I’m sitting in my hotel room, and on the table beside me is a small tube of Pringles crisps. They’re Paprika flavour, not my favourite, but they’re Pringles, and I like them. A lot.

So I have to make a decision – do I eat them or not? I run through the pro’s and cons:

Pro’s: Tasty
Cons: Nutritionally poor, fattening, costly (I haven’t checked if they’re complementary or chargeable, I don’t want to know)

So on the face of it the decision is quite clear, I shouldn’t eat them, esp when you factor in that I am due to head out for a meal shortly.

But humans aren’t rational/machines that run purely on logic, we also have to factor in emotion. In my case my emotional desire to eat them trumps the downsides, I am prepared to jeopardise my health and finances in order to satisfy my desire for taste and so I eat them.

But I eat them in a very mindful way, I don’t just scoff them.  I enjoy the tasty hit from each bite, but it is immediately counterbalanced by a monotonically increasing sense of guilt (another human emotion). The tasty hit dissipates quickly, driving me on to eat another to repeat the sensation, and then another. These highs are short lived, but the lows (guilt) stay longer, accumulating bite by bite.

I’m midway through the tube, I’ve started so I’ll finish. It’s like a fever, I cant stop, I need more, I finish the tube.

If my happiness was X before I ate the crisps, it’s now X-Y. I’m definitely sadder as well as being financially worse off than before I ate the damned things. But I’m 52, I knew that, I’ve been here many times before, yet I still do it.

I now know the correct approach would have been to forego the crisps and at least retain my happiness level of X, nay X+Y, for surely I would have felt more righteous after resisting such temptation?

Instead I now carry a guilt into my evening that won’t leave, and as I wander the streets of Den Haag with colleagues, searching out a restaurant, I feel like I’ve wasted an opportunity. I might as well get drunk and eat animal flesh.

X-Y-Z.  That’s Pringles for you.

pringles

Late onset vegetarianism?

vegetarian

I played at being vegetarian in my mid 20s when I shared a house with one, and I was about 85% successful, having occasional lapses whenever I returned home to my parents for a Sunday roast, or gorged on a kebab after a heavy session on the beer. I was ever so pretentious back then, and whilst I claimed I did it for moral and ethical reasons, I am fairly sure I did it because I couldn’t be arsed to cook my own tea. It lasted about a year, and then after the novelty faded I lapsed back into my old, omnivorian ways.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and hopefully stripped of most of the pretension I carried through my youth, I now find myself once again thinking more and more about vegetarianism.

I think initially it was for health reasons.  Health, and specifically healthy eating, are topics I spend a lot of time researching these days. Ageing is another topic I think about a lot too, and I think it was this impending fear of death that spurred me on to find healthier ways of living, and better ways of eating.

However, the more I looked into meat, the less convinced I was that it was bad for you. Certainly eating too much meat isn’t good, and smoked/processed meats seem to be particularly dodgy, but I couldn’t find much argument against eating modest amounts of high quality meat. After all it’s filled with stuff we need – iron, protein, zinc, B vitamins, magnesium, the list goes on … and so I couldn’t logically discount meat on health grounds, at least not in moderation.

But reading up on this stuff further, I learnt more about the way our meat is farmed. The ladybird book of our childhood depicting a farm where the calf frolics with the piglet whilst the hens sit playfully on the red tractor, is seemingly a long way from the truth. I’m not going to go into what I discovered here, it’s all online should you want to know more, suffice to say I found it very disturbing indeed.

4b-fun-at-the-farm-ladybird

I watched videos of slaughterhouses, not extreme cases, but everyday slaughterhouses. I forced myself to do this, on the basis that if I eat meat I should at least be aware how the meat is produced. But it was hard. Should you want to take a look for yourself, here’s one example from Belgium. This is how your pork is made. It’s very, very difficult to watch. So difficult in fact that it has forced me to seriously reconsider vegetarianism, not on health grounds, but on the basis of cruelty. If that’s what a pig has to go through so I can eat sausages, then I’m not sure I want any part of it.

So that’s animal cruelty, but what about the ethics? Is it right to kill animals? Well not really, although one can argue that if we rear animals for eating, we are creating lives that otherwise would never have existed. If we take the grim, slaughterhouse cruelty of death out of the equation and assume instead that the Ladybird book of farming were true, where Farmer Giles leads the family cow into a field, has a quiet word in his or her ear and painlessly ends its long and beautiful life, it’s still questionable to me whether that’s ethical. Speciesism says that it’s OK to kill that animal (the cow), but not that animal (the dog), unless you live in Korea where it’s OK to kill both. We eat chicken, pigeon possibly, but not squirrels or rats. Or guinea pigs. Double standards everywhere, no coherent logic, no consistency. Speciesism, ageism, racism – think about it for long and you spot a certain trend.

And then there’s the environmental aspects of the meat industry: Cowspiracy. Once again, utterly shocking. We shower instead of bathing, we research more environmentally friendly cars, we recycle our carrier bags, yet none of it even comes close to countering the environmentally disastrous and potentially catastrophic impacts of large scale, global factory farming. Cowspiracy is a well made and humorous film and well worth a watch (free on Netflix), and I urge you to watch it. Don’t worry, it’s not grim like the slaughterhouse.

And so here I am, aged 52. I still eat meat because its easier to eat meat than not eat meat, particularly in a house of meat eaters, but it’s getting harder. Whilst I enjoy the taste of meat, whenever I eat it now it’s tainted with a growing sense of guilt and dare I say some shame and slight disgust.  I ate meat twice this past week. You can’t be a little bit pregnant I hear you say, and you’re right. I’m a hypocrite. Whether I ate meat once, or 21 times in a week, makes no difference ethically. One could argue it makes a difference environmentally perhaps – if everyone ate less meat, less animals would be killed due to falling demand, etc. Less meat consumption also means less cruelty, but you’re still endorsing cruelty. Hypocritical

Oh and then there’s dairy farming. Milk and egg production are arguably just as cruel and ethically wrong as meat farming. Some claim even more so. And I have huge issues here too, and more exposed double standards. I gave up drinking cow’s milk two years ago, yet I still eat cheese, and I eat eggs.  I could at least source eggs locally, eggs that haven’t been factory farmed exploiting chickens locked in dark cages. And by consuming less cow’s milk I can claim I am making at least some impact on the numbers of dairy cows, but it’s still hypocritical, and it’s still only a start.

I really don’t know if I’m brave enough to ever become vegetarian, let alone vegan but morally, ethically I feel I really should try. A possible halfway house is to become pescatarian, eating fish only, but this is still dodgy ground for any moral crusader. Like it’s OK to eat a fish but not a cow or a pig? But, it might be argued, it’s a start. It’s a move in the right direction along the ethical/cruelty spectrum that goes something like this:

Omnivore -> Pescatarian -> Vegetarian -> Vegan -> Fruitarian.

Becoming a fruitarian is just silly, becoming a vegan is very, very hard and vegetarianism is extremely challenging. Pescatarianism might be a stepping stone, but if you’re heading that way for moral and ethical reasons it’s difficult to make that your end stop.

 

 

Words and wars

bubble-main_article_image

Whilst catching up with my backlog of queued podcasts earlier this week, I heard a phrase in reference to the current global war on terrorism that caught my attention.  I don’t remember it exactly but it went along the lines of:

“There are only ever conversations and then wars”

The point being that all we ever have to secure peace is dialogue, discussion or negotiation and once that ends all we have is a reversion to violence on some level.  It’s when talks stall that violence starts, and that’s true whether it’s a local neighbourhood dispute over loud music, or two nations disputing the ownership of land. The magnitudes and implications may be very different, but the processes of negotiation on every level lead ultimately to only one of two outcomes:

negotiate -> compromise or agree -> resolution
negotiate -> fail to reach solution -> violence

It’s rather obvious I guess, but I’d never looked at it in this way, that at a very basic level, all we have in life, to safeguard our desire for peace, safety and happiness, comes down to words and exchange of ideas. Just that. Nothing else.

Whether spoken or written, words give us the ability to set ourselves apart from all other species, to truly become great. Carefully constructed groups of words form ideas and underpin arguments and reason, leading to cures against disease, improvements in technology that lead to improvements in the quality of all of our lives, and the ability to change opinion, to reach consensus, to compromise and reason, ultimately underpinning the very fabric of civilisation as we know it.

And given the importance of words, it is becoming increasingly worrying how social media echo chambers are distorting how we all perceive the world, and therefore how we communicate and interact with the world in our daily lives.

Such echo chambers have always existed, albeit in slightly different forms. Some people always buy The Daily Mail because it satisfies their right wing leanings. Most importantly and most dangerously, it closes the circle by emphasising and endorsing  pre conceived thinking and opinions. If you read The Daily Mail, you read how immigrants are to blame for the economy, lack of housing, demise of the healthcare system and so on, because you read it day after day after day in your newspaper.

Of course this isn’t just a right wing phenomenon. If I care about animal welfare, with a few clicks of a button, all I see all day are stories of cruelty to animals. If I believe the world is run by an elite lizard illuminati I can surround myself in conspiracy stories to back up and endorse my concerns. If I believe man never landed on the moon and it was all a hoax, there are over 137,000 online articles to immerse myself in to ‘uncover the truth’.

And today we don’t just have newspapers to construct our echo chamber, we also have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc, where we get to select and customise our feed content to suit. We determine who makes up our timeline, and so if I am a racist I choose to follow racists who also follow racists, so when I wake on a morning and turn on my smartphone I am bombarded by memes, opinion pieces, photographs and videos that underpin my pre-formed views of the world. Many of us get most, if not all, our information from such places these days. And with fewer and fewer news corporations with increasing levels of power, we are starting to see this also on our TVs and radios.

With very little effort at all, before long, we are all cocooned into our own customised, polarised, filtered views of the world. We experience the same world events but have our own personalised echo chambers to do the interpretation for us, serving it up to us on a 4.8″ super AMOLED HD touchscreen platter.

And if you are President of the United States of America, you follow just 43 people on Twitter, most who either have the word ‘Trump’ in their surname, or who conform to the very same views of your own.  27.7M followers, following the most powerful person on the planet, who in turn follows just 43 people.  This is Trump’s echo chamber. This is the source of his words, the cradle of his ideas. This is where his opinions are formed, where legislation is constructed. This is Trump’s World.

Words and wars – Ne’er a truer word.

Running to stand still …

Today was one of those special days when the sun came out and shone brightly all day long. Supermarkets were selling BBQ food by the skip load, lawnmowers were purring, the birds were singing and everyone appeared to be in a good mood.

And I had to go for a run. I just had to. There was no freewill involved, this was an executive order issued from upon high, and so I strapped on my lime green running shoes and I ran …

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 15.33.00

Within seconds of starting my run I felt real joy, which sounds a little stupid and Hollywoodesque, but its the most accurate word I can come up with. It was like I was in sync with the world (there I go again). I felt the cool breeze on my skin (stop it), marvelled at the blue sky and cotton white clouds (no really, stop it), smelled the flowers in the fields (oh ffs), heard the birds in the trees (tra-la-la) and felt like an integral part of this sunny day, like I was somehow a piece of the jigsaw, instead of the jigsaw builder (better).

And that’s what running does to me, it’s what running does for me. It makes me feel whole. Running for me is an inclusive experience because it connects the dots and joins up the pieces. Running is the thread that binds me to the world, and for a few moments I stop being the passenger who watches the world go by, instead I become part of the world’s fabric.

I often consider myself a spectator. In a meeting room full of business people, I’m continually scanning the room, trying to work out or second guess people’s back stories, trying to see what lies behind their corporate facade. I’m the same at a party, on the outside looking in, searching for clues, gauging the atmosphere, trying to read between the lines. I float around the edges of conversations, a few feet above my own right shoulder, looking down on and witnessing events, but never really being part of them.

A consequence of such behaviour is a feeling of disengagement. I berate myself for not participating more in meetings, or for not chatting more at parties where everyone else appears so much more involved. Instead my mind appears distracted, in absentia, rarely in the ‘now’, usually to be found trying to guess the future or poring over the past.

Except when I’m running.  When I run I flow within the world (don’t go there). There is no third person at these times and no shoulder to sit on. The world is running with me and I’m running with the world. The world is running within me, not without me (another U2 lyric?).

Running won’t make me rich or make me a better person, but it does give me a sense of connectedness and purpose. Running opens up a brief window into a place where I suspect many luckier people already inhabit – people in meetings, people at parties, many of my friends and family, I suspect they’re all there already.

I wonder if a life can ever be lived wholly in flow.

In the meantime I look out of the window, somewhat disengaged, looking forward to my next run.

IMG_0868 (1).jpg

This post was written on Sunday 9th April, hottest day of the year so far …

Nothing to blog about …

manatpc

Not me, I have more hair

I let my blog run dry. I tried often, but I couldn’t find anything to blog about that didn’t sound contrite or repetitive. I just kept staring at the blank page, stood up from my desk and walked away. And then I did that again and again, several times over.

I probably played a game on my iPhone, or I read Twitter. Or Facebook. Whatever it was, it was almost certainly time-stealing, counter productive and procrastinating in nature. To be fair, in fleetingly brief periods of positivity, maybe I also considered going for a run, but then remembered my sore back and tight hamstrings and thought better of it.

Arriving at the conclusion that I couldn’t run on account of my ‘tighter-than-a-tourniquet’ hamstrings probably made me feel even more fed up, compounding the already fed up feeling of Blogger’s Block that kicked off this maudlin’ malaise in the first place.

Things then got worse.  I scratched an itch on my head and I felt dry skin. I burned my head skiing. That’s not a sentence you see very often.  I have hair, I definitely have hair. If someone were to describe me they might say … ‘Andy is average height, has a big fat blotchy red round moon face, a beer belly and grey hair‘. ‘Hair‘ would definitely be in there.  Admittedly it’s thinning a little, but still, I undoubtedly have hair, and that’s definitely noticeable when you see me, and yet I didn’t see one other single person with a burned scalp on that skiing trip.  Not one. Even bald men had unburned scalps, I kid you not.

Which begs the question, why did my scalp burn? It can’t have just been strong sun, or there would have been other casualties. Ergo, I must have a scalp problem. It’s probably sensitive. In fact if you were to say anything vaguely hurtful to my scalp, it would probably cry, storm-off to its bedroom, sulk, not come down for tea and withdraw from society for days, only to emerge wearing all black clothing and a sullen smile. It wouldn’t have a pale complexion though, it would have a bright red one.

So I can’t blog any more, I can’t run on account of my bad back and ‘steel-guitar-stringed’ hamstrings, and I can’t go out in daylight in case my scalp catches fire.

I have something else to confess. On my last day of skiing, in fact on my last downhill run, I tried to break my speed record, as recorded on my skiing app. My current top speed was 68.7km/h, and due to having a bit of an OCD thing especially around numbers, I decided I needed to break 70km/h. And I tried, but at around 69.993km/h I lost control, my left ski flew off to the left towards a group of young French people and I somersaulted a couple of times, banging my head in the process.

skier-crash

Not me, but you get the idea … #wearahelmet

If you’re reading my blog for the first time you might be mistaken for thinking I’m aged 17, but I’m in fact 52 and I really should know better. 70km/h isn’t even very impressive. I’m an awful skier and 60km/h is probably 10km/h beyond my best capabilities, so why I thought trying to achieve 70km/h on my last run on my last day, without a helmet, is so pathetically idiotic to beggar any semblance of vague belief.

Anyway, I did that, and I returned home with a few injuries but kept them to myself as it was all a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, when I awoke the next morning and couldn’t lift my neck off my pillow, and then felt very dizzy when I eventually did, I decided to see my GP.

I was diagnosed with whiplash. Thankfully no obvious or sinister signs of head trauma (scalp aside), but just as I was leaving, the GP asked if she could take my blood pressure. I obliged. It was high. She was concerned. She tested it again. Same.

So, I have blogging constipation, a fused series of vertebrae, tighter-than-a-snare-drum hamstrings, ultraviolet-shy scalp and arterial-busting blood pressure.

I think I’ve put weight on too.

 

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

In July 2004, London was sitting in 4th place out of the 5 contenders to host the 2012 Olympic games, but just a year later, on 6th July, 2005, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2012 Olympics to London.  I know exactly where I was at that moment. My eldest son was off school sick, he was tucked up in bed watching TV and I was in the room when a live news bulletin interrupted our viewing to announce the 2012 Olympics decision …

The London 2012 bid team had played an absolute blinder, and set in motion a series of events lasting more than seven years, culminating in one of the greatest Olympics ever held. It didn’t end with the campaigning, it was also in the planning, the preparation and the execution. Historically, olympic projects have always been beset with financial problems and delays, but somehow London 2012 was delivered on time (if not quite to budget), regenerating a part of London long forgotten to many, even those that lived in the UK and even those of us that worked in London.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Team GB athletes delivered the greatest athletic performance the country has ever seen.  For GB (~60 million population) to finish third in the medal table behind USA (>300 million) and China (>1.3 billion) was just staggering. It was as if the momentum of the successful bid and the enthusiasm the nation wore like an overcoat, somehow fuelled the athletes to also overachieve.

We had government funding and we had a willing public, not just the fans that filled every nook and cranny at every event, but also the army of volunteers who helped, supported and advised, from Heathrow in the west, all the way across town to Salford in the east.

Being British, national pride has often been tinged with guilt for me, as it often brings out an ugliness that seems to have its roots in our imperialistic past when Britannia was arrogant enough to believe she truly ruled the waves. The Union Jack has long been associated with extremism and thuggery, yet somehow at London 2012, the flag was reclaimed as simply the colours of a very proud nation.

London 2012 was a great example of humanity at its best and Britons at their finest. It wasn’t just about the medals, it was also about collaboration, about community, about belief and passion, about friendships, and most importantly about pride.

Fast forward four and a half years to 2016, the same people, but now divided, tangled up in a messy divorce from the EU. Much of that national pride has turned to anger and discord, and politics once again feels dirty and corrupt, no longer a lottery funded cause for the greater good. And unlike 2012, where we opened our borders and outstretched our arms to the world, post-Brexit, we seem to be once again pulling up the drawbridges and closing our doors, not just to outsiders, but to our neighbours too.

We seem to consume our daily news these days through gritted teeth and half closed eyes, wondering what on earth will happen next. We have a government which appears incompetent and ill prepared for Brexit and the challenges that lay ahead. Brexit seems to have beaten us down and created a disharmony that feels a world away from London 2012, and our 2012 passion seems lost in a difficult and uncertain 2016.

But it needn’t be this way.  National pride can, and should, be a force for good, free from any strain of politics, government or economic circumstance. And pride should never be about superiority. French people should be just as proud to be French, Americans to be American, Germans to be German, as I am to be British. London 2012 just reminded us British that we have a lot to be proud of, in the same way other nations should rightly be proud of their own achievements – achievements that should be openly shared and celebrated across a unified world, not envied in a divisive one.

Whatever happens in the coming months, post-Brexit, I’d like to think we in the UK can all regain our own sense of national pride, in whatever way seems fitting for us. Pride can be misplaced and misinterpreted, but it can also be a good thing when kept in context.

The following video encapsulates perfectly what pride meant around London 2012. It’s as funny and quirky as it is beautiful, and it’s joyously optimistic too. It portrays a better time perhaps, but one that can be reclaimed, even in today’s turbulent times.

And we don’t need our governments to do that for us, we can start doing that for ourselves, in whatever way feels right for us.

What have you done to make yourself proud today?

 

 

 

Consolidating Twitter

In an attempt to simplify matters, I’m consolidating my two twitter accounts into one.

@airtyke was personal
@andy_ramsden was professional

My personal wasn’t very funny, or interesting, and my professional wasn’t very professional, or interesting. Lacking insight, wit, intelligence and inspiration across two twitter accounts is doubly demoralising, and so from now on I will only fail to inspire from one of them.

Also, as I get older, I have noticed that my personal life becomes less interesting and less controversial. I no longer tweet drunkenly from the basement of a nightclub at 4am. Sadly, I never did anything remotely like that, which is partly why I am closing down my @airtyke account – the not so funny, my oh-so personal, wannabe aspirational, hilarious, personal twitter account.

From now on @andy_ramsden is where it’s at, twitterly speaking. A rich panoply of thoughts, ideas and, yes, occasionally opinions, that span an eclectic range of interests including virtually anything and everything this blog does, but in less than 140 words, yay!

Kevin, the cockroach

kevin-2

It was late evening on Sunday when I checked into my hotel in Orlando. I was tired after a long flight from San Francisco, but wanted to check email quickly. I sat down at my desk, fired up my laptop and opened up Outlook.  Whilst I sat there, waiting for my messages to sync, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, a brief, skittish flicker of something off to my right. I couldn’t see anything at first, and I had just refocused on my email when something distracted me again, and this time I saw a cockroach running along the desk.

I yelped, or squealed, possibly both. It was definitely girly. I am very scared of cockroaches. I don’t hate them, in fact I kind of respect them for being such hardy creatures, but I do have a very deep-seated fear of them. These primeval neanderthals could survive a nuclear attack, I remind myself whenever the word cockroach is mentioned.

I felt physically sick as I jumped back from my chair and desk as the roach tried to squeeze itself between the crack of my desk and the adjacent wall, but before it could disappear I placed a glass on top of it, base first, squishing it. Oh good God what had I done!? What was I going to do now? I daren’t lift the glass in case it scurried away, or even worse became angry at my impudence and attacked me. It might scurry off, get its mates and come after me, mob handed, the sneaky little bullying neanderthal shitbastard.

My heart was racing. It was at least in stasis beneath the glass, I reassured myself, it looked crushed, but then one can never be sure and so I left it there and retired to bed, somewhat fearful the wider cockroach family may come out search party style, looking for missing persons.

Monday
I awoke after a fitful sleep and immediately but warily checked the glass. It was still there and surely dead by now but I still couldn’t bring myself to lift the glass in case it moved, and so I left it and left for work. I convinced myself the maid would surely be roach proficient and would sort the problem without even batting her Floridian eyelid.

On my return that evening, the room had been tidied and the glasses had all been returned to the bathroom, no roach in sight, presumed cleared away.  But no sooner had that thought crossed my mind when I saw the very same roach skittering across my desk and disappearing once again down the same crack it had tried to disappear down the previous night.

The maid must have simply lifted the glass, and despite > 12hrs of overnight glass asphyxiation, this prehistoric monster had simply crawled nonchalantly away and carried on living its life in room 3209.  I felt sick again but was calmer than yesterday. I was angry at the maid, she must have seen it under the glass surely? Had she let it go on purpose? Why would she do that? I made a mental note not to leave a tip.

Tuesday
I saw nothing upon awakening and left for my meetings. I returned early evening and had a quick turnaround before heading back out for dinner, but as I switched on the light there he was, for I was sure he was a he, he had that arrogant swagger only males possess. He saw me, waved his antenna in a fuck-you kinda way and headed for the crack, the very same crack, and disappeared once again out of sight.  I was astonished, this felt like a game, one in which I was losing. I felt less scared than previously yet more annoyed that this little critter was toying with me. I returned late that night and as sure as eggs is eggs there Kevin was. I was a little tipsy and feeling brave so I ran towards him, certain I could block his path and head him off at the pass. My efforts proved futile and he once again disappeared down the blessed crack, no doubt laughing as he went.

Wednesday
I didn’t see Kevin Wednesday morning but we met briefly Wednesday evening as I returned and switched on the light. Same routine, there he was, waving his antenna antagonistically at me before nonchalantly (and that irked me a little), almost sauntering his way to the crack as if to goad me to try and stop him. I wasn’t going to be drawn into his childish games so I averted my eyes and ignored him. I think that showed him.

Thursday
Checkout day. As I packed I looked out for Kevin but he was nowhere to be seen. It was daylight, he was probably sleeping. I missed him. I wanted to say goodbye, metaphorically shake his hand out of respect if nothing else. Kevin was a character, we’d played a game and he’d won.

I never did see him again, but I did leave with a new found respect for cockroaches.

And in the end I decided to leave the maid a few dollars tip after all, with a note attached:

slide1

 

 

 

 

A 7-day Intermittent Fasting experiment

fasting-plate

I’ve been interested in Fasting ever since I saw the Michael Moseley Horizon programme in 2012, not just for weight loss reasons, but rather the claimed health benefits – lowering the risk of developing diabetes, dementia and cancer.

Fasting purportedly diverts energy and resources away from food digestion, focussing instead on doing useful housekeeping things like cell repair, reducing insulin levels and generally ridding the body of toxins and other debris. It also re-teaches the body the lost art of deriving energy from fat, as opposed to from the carbs in our belly – a process called Ketosis. Most of us carry enough fat to survive several weeks without food, which is why fasting is safe, and why many people have successfully conducted 21 or 28 day fasts without any harm.  It’s also popular in many religions and spiritual practices – Islam (Ramadan), Buddhism, Bahá’í, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism … the list goes on.

Even outside of religion and spirituality, fasting has been a natural part of human existence for as long as we have been around, primarily because food was scarce and so early man had to eat when he/she could, forced to fast in between hunts and catches. We are therefore designed to cope well with fasting, it’s in our genetic make-up, even if it does feel a little alien to the modern psyche which has been raised on the 3 square meals a day regime (3SMAD). The introduction of 3SMAD has its roots traced back to 19th Century America – it was a symbol of civilisation to sit down with friends and family at fixed times to eat, an attempt to differentiate the ‘civilised’ white man from the indigenous natives. It could therefore be argued that fasting is more natural to us than 3SMAD.

Nevertheless, many people will still argue that 3SMAD is best for us and that fasting is sheer madness. People will claim they feel ‘shaky’ if they miss lunch, and cite this as evidence they need to eat, but there is a counter-argument that your body has just become so dependent on deriving instant energy from food carbs that it’s forgotten the lost art of ketosis which fasting allows.

I therefore decided to give it a go for a week. Instead of the traditional 5:2 diet which I followed for a year or so but found rather difficult, I decided to try just eating one meal a day, every day, limiting my calorie intake to a couple of hours each evening. That means eating nothing whatsoever for 22 hours – no sugar or milk in tea, certainly no snacks or fruit, just water, tea and an occasional black coffee. You could call this the 7:0 diet – a little extreme maybe, but if the theory of ketosis is sound, I figured it wouldn’t be anything more than a psychological challenge. If you want more detail on this, I got the idea from the following video Eating Once a Day.

Important to note I placed no restrictions on what I ate (or drank) in these two hours. I didn’t cap calories or consciously cut out any food groups.  I even allowed alcohol because I know if I had banned it, I would have fallen at the first hurdle. What is interesting, is what happened:

My Diary

Day 1 – not surprisingly this was easy, after all I had a corpulent body full of yesterday’s 3SMAD excess calories to keep me going. I didn’t want any alcohol and just ate a moderate plate of veggie grub.

Day 2- felt good, loved waking up and not having to worry about food all day, a feeling that persisted throughout the week. Interestingly I only had (only wanted, only needed) a light meal, although it was accompanied by a glass of wine. Day 2 was a Friday, and had I banned alcohol in this experiment, I may have felt resentful and rebellious. However, without any alcohol ban I was free to enjoy a glass, and because I felt good about the fasting, I wasn’t tempted to drink any more, ending the evening feeling unusually virtuous and sated.

Day 3 – felt good, went for a long walk during the day (4 miles), had a veg stir-fry for dinner plus two glasses of wine (it was Saturday night). I didn’t really enjoy the second glass of wine – one would have been enough but in a perverse mindfcuked reasoning kind of way that only I could muster, I convinced myself I should have a second glass to prove to myself I wasn’t restricting alcohol.

Day 4 – hard, very hard. Perhaps it was the wine? Who knows, but I had a persistent headache all day, felt tired and sluggish despite sleeping well and craved food throughout, occasionally staring balefully at the cheddar cheese in the fridge. I only just made it through to tea-time, but interestingly didn’t have (or want) any alcohol. Veg Thai green curry (no noodles).

Day 5 – much better. I was busy which helps a lot and I just had a light veg dinner. No alcohol. I definitely felt lighter and I’m definitely sleeping better and eating much healthier food through choice/desire. No cravings whatsoever for junk food (odd for me) and most surprisingly of all, despite not restricting alcohol, I’ve only had 3 glasses of wine in the first 5 days, including a weekend, and anyone that knows me will know that’s quite uncharacteristic.

Day 6 – all went well, seems to get easier. Had a light veg based dinner, no alcohol. Sleep continues to improve. Once again my focus and concentration was immense, far better than usual and my work productivity has undoubtedly increased. Managed a 2.5 mile run.

Day 7 – felt harder. Perhaps knowing this was the last day made me psychologically weak, like I sensed the finish line. But that makes it sounds like it’s been a hard slog and it really hasn’t. I’m only stopping today because I set myself a 7-day target for this experiment and the more I look at it, the more I believe I could continue further. I survived and rounded off the 7-day fast with an oven baked jacket potato and cheese like mama used to make. Enjoyed a 3-mile walk.

In summary

I would say on average I have consumed well under 1,000 calories a day, probably closer to 600-700, and interestingly have eaten smaller portions and higher quality evening meals than I ever did on 3SMAD. I also rarely craved junk food and 3 glasses of wine was well under par for me for a weekly total. I also ate total vegetarian – due in part to a bountiful supply of garden produce, but certainly not a conscious action at the outset of the experiment, perhaps this was pure coincidence.

Of course 600-700 calories a day isn’t sustainable long term, but I guess that’s where ketosis comes in, at least in the short term. I have AMPLE fat stores to draw upon, as do most of us fortunate enough to live in the western world, and so such a challenge over a relatively short period of time is only ever a psychological one I think. This was never going to be, nor ever planned to be, sustainable, I just wanted to check if it was doable, and it was. It’s foolish to draw any firm conclusions, but it has proved to me you don’t have to eat at set meal-times, it’s OK to skip a meal (or two), and in fact it might even be good for you to listen to your body rather than the chimes of the clock.

I have no idea what it has done for (or to) my health, all I can say is I felt better afterwards than I did at the beginning. I felt like I had more energy and my brain was definitely sharper – I could concentrate for longer and didn’t feel sleepy during the day. For the record I lost 3.4kg (7.5lbs) in weight. No doubt much of that will go back on when I return to normal eating, although, and here’s the crux, I’m not entirely sure I will return to my normal 3SMAD eating, but perhaps somewhere in between.

I’m certain many of you will think this was a silly and dangerous thing to have done. All I can say is I survived and as described above I felt better than I did previously. Best of all I believe I now have a much better perspective and handle on my, admittedly rather quirky relationship with food (and maybe also drink).